Iraqi Politics Exploit Women's Sufferings

Iraqi society was shocked with an unprecedented issue of a woman stepping forward voluntarily and admitting to have been sexually assaulted by Iraqi Security Forces. Instead of pursuing further investigation into this assault allegation, or empowering the victim with moral support, the opponent Islamist sectarian factions competed to exploit the matter politically preparing the ground for bloody sectarian conflict. They symbolized Sabrine's rape as an assault against the whole "Sunni religious group."

Meanwhile, the heads of Shia Islamist parties -- who are the top officials in the government -- immediately scorned and disbelieved the victim and rewarded the accused rapists. Moreover, they indulged in raising moral suspicions about the victim's reputation. All of this was publicized before knowing for sure that the assault did not take place, as the reports were contradictory and it is impossible in the first place to cancel out the possibility of a rape by clinical check ups. This matter has revealed a misogynist tendency where most spokesmen started to scorn and discredit the victim, wishing that no woman should ever dare to speak out the details of her sexual humiliation. On the contrary, a few of these male-chauvinist reports declared clearly that they preferred that she ends her life or live a lifetime of pain and misery without even thinking of punishment for her rapists.This kind of assault was repeated again in the northern city of Tal Aafar, where Wajida Muhamad Amin was group-raped by security forces. In this case, it was not possible to deny or discredit the victim as there were witnesses.

Raping Iraqi women by the police force is not an unbelievable or a new matter. The Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq has located six confirmed cases of women raped by police, inside and outside detainment centers. The youngest of these raped females is 14 year old. OWFI activists have raised reports of these cases to the officials in the Ministry of Interior and the presidency of ministries and no answer has arrived so far.

The matter to be questioned at this point is not whether these assaults happened or not, neither about Sabrine's credibility. The rapes take place daily under the chaotic situations resulting from the occupation. The occupation authorities handed over the power to uncivilized forces which have no respect for women's rights and dignity. On the contrary, they have promoted sectarian hatred to be applied in tribal barbaric ways where women of the other clan are "sexual hostages" to be exploited, while the women of their own clan are "valuables to be protected". In all cases, these uncensored forces will always regard women as property of the clan and a tool of political vengeance, but never an independent human worthy of respect.

Who protects Iraqi women in these barbaric situations? And who will guarantee their dignity, their privacy, and right to a decent future?

Women of Iraq cannot live securely under the occupation and the government of ethnic and sectarian division which has no respect for human and women's rights. The only hope lies in the people's strive to create the other alternative which liberates all from the repression of the religious, sectarian, and ethnic parties. Our alternative of freedom and equality is the only guarantee to ending gender inequality and all kinds of social discrimination.

Yanar Mohammed is the president of Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, a Global Fund grantee.


Visiting Nicaragua and Costa Rica

Sorry if you have not heard from us lately, we have been jumping from meeting to meeting on our trip to Nicaragua and Costa Rica without having the time to sit and write part of our experiences.

These past days have been a life changing experience for us, not just because we have been able get to know our grantees and their work more deeply, but also because we better understand the circumstances under which they are working. During this week, we have been very fortunate to meet with very diverse groups, from Caribbean indigenous groups in Bilwi, Nicaragua, to very sophisticated feminist groups in San Jose, Costa Rica.

On Monday and Tuesday, our grantees convened to share experiences at the Sexual and Reproductive Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean meeting. Twenty-eight women representing 11 countries attended. During the first day, we focused on exchanging and evaluating the impact of the work carried out by the organizations.

The morning of the second day, we focused the discussions on the issue of sustainability and financial resources for women. Our grantees analyzed the difficulties in getting funding to develop their activities and discussed strategies to ensure sustainability. In this session, we invited our sister, the Central American Women's Fund, as well as UNFPA and UNIFEM representatives in Nicaragua. We also had the opportunity to discuss recommendations to develop more strategic grantmaking in the issue of sexual and reproductive rights and health.

After the meeting, we traveled to Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas) at the north Atlantic region in Nicaragua, home of our board member Myrna Cunningham. Myrna organized a meeting with more than 45 women and men representing Indigenous and Afro-Nicaraguans women's groups, scholars, autonomous government's representatives, students, and researchers. The meeting focused on the issue of gender violence against women, as this is one of the most serious concerns in this region of the country.

On Thursday, we went back to Managua and visited more grantees and partners.

We arrived to Costa Rica last Friday, since then we have been meeting with grantees. On Saturday, we had a meeting with 17 women's groups and organizations. Costa Rica is also a very diverse country, with different indigenous, afro-descendant groups, immigrants -- mainly from Nicaragua and Colombia - and a very large European community. It's also a country of contrasts, with no army but with a deep social and economic polarization. Women's groups are working with very limited resources, trying to advance women's rights in a country where an unfair "Free Trade Agreement" is the government's priority.

We visited a grantee, Mujeres por la Salud y el Desarrollo, in San Ramon, approximately one and a half hours from the capital. The group is working to prevent violence against women, giving psychological, social and legal services to survivors of violence. The group also provides skill training to ensure women's economic independence. During the last year, the group participated in the social mobilization against the free trade agreement with the U.S. and the neo-liberal economic model imposed by the Arias' government. They understand the relation between violence against women and a lack of economic opportunity. They also know that this economic model is perpetuating women's subjugation. This group has been surviving with some income-generating activities, and has developed catering services and handcraft workshops.

That's all for now, I just wanted to share some of our experiences here before we return to San Francisco.

Erika Guevara Rosas is the program officer for the Americas.


Have You Been to In Her Shoes Yet?

Need plans for the weekend? Do you live in Palo Alto, California? Have you been to In Her Shoes yet?

This shoe store in Palo Alto has some of the most whimsical, varied, practical and fun shoes you will ever find. Flats, dressy to super casual, comfy, boots and rain boots, high and low heals, colors, sparkles make the selection incredible. There are also purses, handbags, tights, belts, scarves and jewelry to round out any outfit. Prices start at under $30, but there are some more upscale brands.

in_her_shoesAlso, while you are visiting In Her Shoes take a break and get a pedicure.

However, what makes this shoe store really unusual is that the owner, Pamela Rosekrans is donating all the profits to the Global Fund for Women. I volunteer at the store on Wednesdays, but you can come in any day from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. except Sunday, when the store opens at noon. Call 650-326-9611 and you can schedule a pedicure, and through March bring a friend for free. Please do comment since Yelp already has 8 reviews, 7 with 5 stars. 

In Her Shoes
644 Emerson Street
(Between Hamilton and Forest)
Palo Alto, CA

Kickboxing Against Violence in Hong Kong

Why hold a walk-a-thon to raise money for women's rights when you can break a kickboxing world record? Global Fund grantee, The HER Fund in Hong Kong, is hosting such an event to raise funds for their 88 Day Campaign - which is named for the number of days that fall between International Human Rights Day on December 10th and International Women's Day on March 8th.

Global Fund adviser Lin Chew sent us this article on the event:

her_poster Domestic violence in Hong Kong hit the headlines again last month when national and international media reported on the increase of incidents by 79 percent last year, prompting calls for concerted government action to halt the trend. Police figures revealed 4,704 "domestic violence" cases in 2006 compared with 2,628 the year before. A majority of the cases involved heated "disputes" or a "breach of peace", but 1,811 were classified as crimes, including nine murders, nine rapes and 137 cases of injuries. The sharp rise in domestic violence cases comes after chief executive Donald Tsang pledged to make tackling the phenomenon a policy priority in his policy address speech last year.

The rise in domestic violence cases comes at a time when Hong Kong's economy is booming but the gap between the wealthy and the poor is widening rapidly. The city's obsession with wealth and pressure on the young to perform is seen as one of the major factors causing breakdowns in family communications that then trigger these violent incidents. Those who have been following the issue for years however also attribute the problem to prevailing society's low attitude towards women, the elderly and the children - who comprised most of the victims of domestic violence. Some studies have also pointed at the rising social tensions in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule, with a growing number of marriages between Hong Kong men and women from mainland China failing. Growing awareness and sense of empowerment among local women to report abuses that might otherwise have gone un-noticed may have also been a factor in this increasing visibility of the problem.

Women's groups are campaigning for the establishment of a domestic violence court and updating of existing laws for better protection of the victims.

What you can do

Assistance available to victims of violence in the family remains limited. There are only four shelters in Hong Kong, providing around 170 places, which is a starkly inadequate number for a population of 6.8 million. Victims of domestic violence complain of inadequate legal and psychological support from government's social services units and often feel isolated and confused. The heavy workload and increasingly limited resources of government social workers affect their ability to respond effectively. Private resources, such as those from women's advocacy groups, have attempted to fill the gaps. However they are hampered by a lack of funding. Philanthropic institutions in Hong Kong do not typically fund specifically women's concerns, except in the case of basic needs, such as alleviation of poverty and child care.

HER Fund strives to strengthen women's resistance to violence

This is a young fund that was set up on March 8 2004, in order to support the work of women's organisations in Hong Kong, which strives to address the issues around violence against women. There are many forms of violence that are directed towards women, especially those in maginalised sectors of the society, for example, migrant women, domestic workers, sex workers and lesbians, and the factors which contribute to incidences of a specific form are various.

Next to the necessity to address the general root causes of violence in the society, HER Fund believes that the most effective way to reduce violence against women is to make women stronger and more able to resist violence. Therefore HER Fund also supports women's organisations that work to strengthen women to participate in the economic, political and social life of the society. In order to do this, women (and girls) need access to education, work and health.

FUNDRAISING: KickStart her Strength in Motion

In order to fulfil this mission, HER Fund strives to raise resources from individuals, foundations and corporate companies within and outside of Hong Kong.

Every year, during the 88 days between December 10 (International Human Rights Day) and March 8(International Women's Day), HER Fund carries out her main fundraising activities, under the motto: " $88 for March 8".

This year, the theme of HER Fund's 88 Days Fundraising Campaign is "Stop Violence Against Women." The highlight of this year's campaign is an event to set a Guinness Book Record for the largest number of people "kickboxing " at the same time. The event is co-organised together with a professional kickboxing studio called "KickStart" whish will provide instructors to lead the actual exercise, and teach participants the basic movements of kickboxing.

Visit the HER Fund website for more information.


Another World is Possible — Notes from the World Social Forum

At the World Social Forum in Kenya last month, Bay Area reporter, Sara Wolcott attended a lecture given by the Global Fund's Muadi Mukenge. Read Sara's thoughts on the impact of globalization on African women in Bay Area Business Woman.

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